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Archive for November, 2013

Saturday errands a a great movie recommendation

November 30th, 2013 at 11:14 am

I went to Trader Joe's where, along with a few of my usual purchases, I picked up a few holiday food items for my mother. One of the gifts I'm giving her is a gourmet style tray filled with some of my favorite foods, which are sure to become her favorites! (We are both big dark chocolate and nut people.) Unfortunately, I left the tray of food on my dining room table when she stopped by before Thanksgiving, and I think she was studying it. Chances are, she'll forget about it by Christmas.

Also stopped at BJs, where I was relieved to see the 3 lb bags of frozen berries for $9.99 in the cooler again. They seem to run out from time to time. This is another regular purchase for me as berries (like avocados, beets, nuts, cabbage and kale), is another power food. I also picked up some coleslaw (another favorite).

Then I stopped at Caraluzzi's to spend $10 for Small Business Saturday on free groceries by charging on my Amex card, but when I got home, I suddenly realized I'd used a different credit card! I am SO easily distracted. Luckily, I live just a mile from the store, so back out I went as this is too good an offer and it only comes by once a year.

While at BJs, I picked up 3 tins of chocolate covered crackers, a gift for the insurance agent who was so helpful in finding me an Obamacare health plan. I wrapped it up and was going to hand deliver it to his office, but they are closed and only open 8:30 to 4:30 pm. Seems wasteful to mail this from the post office when I can just drop it off sometime, except that I leave for work at 8:15 and get home around 6 pm.

I do have one doc appt in mid-December when I hope to work from home (just less running around) so that would be the day to do it.

For lunch, I decided to try copying a salad I saw behind the case in the deli which was selling for a very pricey $8.99 a pound! It was chopped up raw kale with dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, scallions, red onion and minced carrot. There was probably some sort of dressing on it as well. Mine came out okay, but kale is a somewhat tough green to eat raw. I probably should have cut it into even smaller pieces than I did. No matter. It won't go to waste.

I've been enjoying leftover turkey since Thursday and have one more serving before it's gone. I went to the trouble of brining it overnight outside in a cooler, and it really made a big difference, so this will be the way to go for future turkeys.

So this has been a stretch of 5 days off (Wednesday was a work at home day, but felt like a day off since I was home and work was slow) and it's been very nice.

While at TJ's, I also stopped in at that shoe store, DSW or whatever, after seeing a very cute pair of brown suede moccasins my mother had worn on Thanksgiving. I did in fact locate said moccasins, but they didn't quite fit right. I really need to find a wide size more and more I find. They were so cute, though, right out of the 60s, as far as I'm concerned.

I should really prime the back wall of closet, but don't really feel like it. The sooner I prime and paint it, the sooner I can get all this stuff lying around back in it, but feeling rather lazy.

Roofers are now coming Monday to start as weather will be a bit warmer, with a high of 44 on Monday rather than a high of 35. The temperature makes a different, he says, when laying down the rubber membrane.

Last night I saw a GREAT movie called Father Frost. It would be just perfect to occupy the little ones if you have any children to entertain around the holidays. This movie, based on Russian fairy tales, was remade in 1996, but I would strongly recommend the original 1966 version made in Russia and featuring some fascinating authentic-looking costuming, along with some interesting fantasy elements involving elves, witches and other bad folk out to mess things up for the neglected and unloved little girl who finds her Prince Charming. I really loved the simple story and the decidedly un-Hollywood feel to this movie.

If I were one to collect DVDs, this would be one of a select few I'd add to my collection.

Unexpected freedom

November 29th, 2013 at 06:16 am

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. We had just a small group but I must say we had plenty to eat. No one guessed that I ordered two of my sides from a local butcher shop! They thought I'd made everything myself. I sent everyone home with leftovers, and I had a second Thanksgiving meal later that night.

Today was the day my roofer was going to start on my new roof, but he called early this morning and asked if it'd be ok to start on Monday instead, because it will be about 5 degrees warmer (40ish) and the rubber membrane they put down under the shingles should not be put down in such cold weather.

I said sure, although that means I won't be around to "supervise" and keep an eye on things. Come to think about it, I didn't do that when my 1st roof was put on, so I guess it will be okay. I just felt better knowing I could walk out at various stages of the work to make sure they were doing it right, like, if I was here, I'd know if they had to replace any of the plywood underneath, but if I'm not, I'll have to take their word for it if he tells me they had to replace x number of 4 x 8 plywood sheets (at $40 a pop). So he could easily add on to the cost of the job and I'd have no way to verify if that was true. (Unless maybe if I look in the dumpster on the morning of the second day, before I go to work and before they return.... I think I'll do that.)

But at the same time, I knew that staying here while the work was being done would be nerve-wracking with all that banging going on.

So anyway, I no longer am tied to staying home while the roof is being done and I am free to consider venturing out to shop and join the maddening crowd. I may just go to BJs and Trader Joe's.

How a Brilliant Insurance Agent Saved Me $$$ on Obamacare

November 27th, 2013 at 06:44 am

For the last two months, I'd been TRYING to sign up for health insurance via my state's healthcare exchange. I managed to register and view my insurance choices online, but I did have some questions I wanted answered before I signed up.

The exchange's hours are 8 am to 6 pm, which is a problem when you work and have no privacy to have this kind of conversation.

Once I tried calling right at 8 a.m....15 minutes before I have to leave for work, but after she insisted she had to ask ME questions, she then put me on hold for a licensed agent and I had to hang up after waiting too long.

I tried calling from work by going into the stairwell at my 10-story office building and climbing to the top (vacant) floor so I could sit on the stairs and call, but again, I used up my entire half hour lunch on hold.

Whenever I tried logging onto the website I encountered frequent problems.

The ONE day I had to call them was this past Monday, which was the first time I was able to work at home due to having a doc appointment. But the handyman also came to do his thing and AT&T came to check out a line that's causing dropped UVerse connections (they ended up rewiring the whole thing) and then I had an appointment with my mother to see a lawyer to get power of attorney, so I simply RAN OUT OF TIME to call the state health exchange.

So I was at the end of my rope when I decided to make an appointment with a local insurance agent here in town who advertised that he was health exchange-certified and could help walk people through the process.

I've had 6 jobs in 2013 (p/t, contract or freelance) so calculating this year's income was a bit tricky, but I estimate I will only make about $41K. What they really look at, though, is 2014 income, and I calculate (carefully) that my 2014 income will be about $51,000, just $5,000 over the threshold of $46,000 income under which I'd qualify for a healthcare subsidy.

I met with this agent for an hour-and-a-half last night after work. Without his help, I would have settled for a Bronze plan with Anthem paying $500 a month in premiums with a $6300 maximum out of pocket cap and a $6300 deductible that includes pharmacy as well as medical. This is not good, since the very expensive medication I take for my MS is nearly $3,000 a month. So this means that I'd essentially have to shell out $6,000 in the first 2 months of 2014 before getting any kind of medical or pharmacy coverage.

But the insurance agent came up with something I would never have thought to do. If in 2014 I make the maximum IRA contribution (with the catch-up for being over age 50) to a TRADITIONAL IRA, I will have lowered my adjusted gross income to $44,500. Bingo. We revised my 2014 income to that rate on the state website and now I qualify for a substantial subsidy.

Not only that, but I'm now signed up for a GOLD plan where I pay just $404 a month with a $1,000 deductible and $3,000 maximum out of pocket cap.

The only hitch is that at least right now, my neurologist does not appear to be on that plan although my primary care doc and gyno are. The other thing that is a little unsettling is that the plan I signed up for is a NEW (non-profit) health insurer. While a lot of people might shy away from signing up with an unproven insurer, I decided to go with them because more of my regular doctors are in their network compared to another plan with a better known company.

So I'm paying $589 a month now on the exceedingly lousy Charter Oak (state Medicaid) plan. In 2014, I will save $189 a month in premiums with the other benefits I just mentioned.

There IS just one potentially problematic issue. As you may know from reading my blog, my current contract job at the bank is at least right now only intended to extend to July 2014. So when I calculated my 2014 income before deducting for the planned IRA contribution, I had just calculated bank income through July and then added unemployment benefit income for the rest of the year, assuming I had no other job lined up. This is the worst case scenario that assumes the bank doesn't extend my contract, as they do for many contractors, by 3 months or 6 months, or even possibly offer me a perm job, as they have also done for some others.

So based on this worst case scenario of losing the bank job in July, my health insurance at least would remain somewhat more affordable, at $404 a month.

And of course, if in July the bank offers me a perm position, then I will leap into their arms and sign up for THEIR health plan as quickly as I can and wave goodbye to everything related to the healthcare exchanges and probably get away with paying $200 or so a month.

HOWEVER, there are many shades of grey here. If in July the bank says, Patient Saver, we'd like to extend your contract for 3 months, then I will have to report the change of income on the state healthcare exchange website. That will cause me to exceed the $46,000 income threshold to receive the subsidy.

At that point, I would then have to pay the full price of the Gold plan, which is $700-something a month, for the remaining 5 months of the year. So for the latter 5 months of the year, I would have to pay at least $3500 just for the premiums.

(Quick calculation: An extra 3 months of bank income would roughly gross $17,000, pushing my annual 2014 gross up to about $68,000. 7.5% of of that is $5,100, so i guess to the extent that my healthcare expenses exceed that, I can deduct in on next year's tax return.)

But anyway, back to the scenario of getting a 3-month extension on the job but losing the subsidy. Working full-time, I guess I could afford to pay $700-something a month for health insurance, although when or if I lost the job after the extension, I'd have to report change of income AGAIN and probably wind up on the Medicaid option which I decidedly DO NOT want to be on as I've already experienced how difficult it is to obtain coverage on it, despite what they claim.

To actually have to be talking about paying $700-something a month for health insurance sounds like insanity to me, but that's the way it goes. And unfortunately now with the subsidy, what's good for me job-wise will not be good for me healthcare expense-wise, unless I get a perm job and I can go on the employer's plan.

So it's hard to know what the heck to wish for!

Anyway, I am still extremely grateful to this insurance agent who found a creative solution to help me lower my healthcare costs, at least for the first 7 months of 2014. On my list of things to do is to get him some sort of gourmet gift/food basket and have it delivered to his office.

Timing is everything

November 24th, 2013 at 02:44 pm

So, I had been thinking how great it would be if i could put my house on the market this spring. It would seem I'd have plenty of time (this winter and early spring) to get done all the many things that I feel should be done.

I hate looking forward to another tough winter and another season of lawn mowing after that.

However, this bank contract job I have lasts until July 2014. The bank hires a LOT of contractors like me, and it's not uncommon for a contractor's initial term of 10 months to be renewed for another 3 months, and sometimes, another 3 months after that. There have also been any number of people who were offered a permanent position there.

So any of those scenarios, especially the last one, would be wonderful, OF COURSE. Being a contractor worker at a company with lots of perm employees makes me feel like the poor little match girl (if you remember that children's story) outside in the cold and wintry night, looking in the window at all the other children laughing and playing and having a grand old time.

I don't think I can consider putting the house on the market before I find out what's going to happen with this job in July.

After years of going to condo open houses in my area (I'm committed to staying in this general area because my mother is here, and I will need to look after her), I feel no closer to knowing where I might end up than I did 4 years ago.

I have yet to find a condo complex that meets all my key requirements (gas heat, c/a, newer construction (1985 would be about the oldest I'd want to go), updated kitchen and baths and a woodsy, "uncondo-like" setting, plus reasonable price and property taxes.

I don't really plan on moving again after this, so I want this condo to be my retirement home, the home I've worked hard all my life to finally enjoy.

One complex I've been interested in, with its brand new construction and large square footage in a nice country town near my mother is in the opposite direction of where my commute to the bank is. It would add another half hour to my current 35-minute commute, and if you've been reading my blog from time to time, you KNOW how i hate a lengthy commute.

There's another condo, built around 1985 with electric heat. Some units have been very nicely updated, while others, not. But it is in a lovely country woodsy setting and very private outdoor patio or deck. The kind of outdoor privacy and peaceful setting is unlike any other condo I've seen in the area. The outdoor space and privacy is SO important to me as I'm not used to condo living. However, this condo, too, would add about 15 minutes to my drive for a total 50-minute drive.

So for as long as I keep this job, whether it's for another few months or possibly longer, I don't think I want to move further away. So it could put my whole move on hold.

I guess it's not the end of the world. In the event I got a perm job offer from them, I think I'd be in a position to hire someone to cut the grass. I still clear my own 100-foot driveway of snow as there's an upward slope involved and lots of broken up areas/cracks. Plows in the past tore of asphalt. I use a small snowblower, which works quite well. Still a lot of work though, at a time in my life when I want the physical labor to wind down a little.

So I may still be here for a while. But if the job eventually ends, perhaps by winter of next year, I would then have time to clean the place up, do final repairs and put it on market in the spring of 2015.

Although even then, if I wound up at either of the 2 condos I mentioned above, it might make the doability of a future job a little difficult becus both of those towns are further out from job centers, not closer. If I were ready to retire totally, it wouldn't matter, but truth be told, I am still just in my early 50s and financially, I'm not quite there yet. I'd like to retire at age 60, so a possible 35 years in retirement is a whole lot of years to cover. I need to work a little longer. I'm not sure I can hold out til 60 becus working f/t really doesn't appeal to me, but I suppose a lot of people share that sentiment. At 60, I would still do my freelance writing from home, and perhaps even a simple p/t job in the local community, just to keep busy.

I'm a planner, and it's frustrating to have things up in the air like they are, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

At least I'll have a brand new roof.

Next Up....a New Roof

November 24th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Once again my grand plans for saving are stymied as I learned yesterday I am in need of a new roof.

At 18 years, I knew the roof was approaching the end of its natural life, but hadn't really planned on putting this on my list of things to fix before selling the house. However, something happened yesterday that changed all that.

Handyman was over yesterday to apply the 2nd coat of compound on the back wall of an upstairs linen closet which received ice dam damage from last winter. (I'd discovered similar damage in an adjacent closet and dealt with that previously, but I didn't discover the damage in the 2nd closet til I emptied it out in search of stuff to sell in my garage sale last summer.)

So anyway, when he returned yesterday, he pointed out an ugly brown stain on top of the compound he'd applied! There must be a damn water leak. I went into the attic to have a look, but of course it's bone dry now and everything looks fine. But we did have some rain last week.

Not the kind of thing I want to let go. Put down my info on HomeAdvisor website and within, like, one minute, the first of 4 roofers called me. He came over an hour later, got on the roof and informed my I need a new roof. I climbed out a bathroom window and walked on the more shallow pitched family room roof and he pointed out shingles that had been damaged by guys I'd hired last winter to shovel snow off the roof after an exceedingly heavy snowstorm. Not something I usually do, but there were reports of old barn roof cave-ins at the time, along with cave-ins of roofs with a shallow pitch. So I forked over a couple hundred at the time thinking I was doing the smart thing.

He also said the shingles all along the eaves were all chewed up...could I have done that myself with the long roof rake I have? I didn't scrape down to bare shingle, but who knows? He said if you use a snow rake, leave a half inch or so of snow there....I thought I had. I may have also damaged the shingles myself the umpteen times I got on an extension ladder in dead of winter to chip ice dams off the gutters with a hammer. I thought I was being careful, but he said shingles are very brittle in cold temps so maybe that was the problem. Stupid me.

On top of that, I knew there was much older damage to the family room roof from at least 10 years ago when an old boyfriend was trying to help me by setting up a ladder on the shallow pitched family room roof to paint the side (2nd story) of the main house. He'd done a lot of damage to the shingles because the feet of the ladder dug right into them as he moved the ladder as he painted, and by the time I saw what he'd done, it was too late. I was pretty mad at the time. He couldn't have put a throw rug or something or something under them??

So anyway. The roofer who came over also pointed out some holes in the roof; don't know what happened to the nails that were once there, but maybe they were pulled up by the guys shoveling. He said I could still be getting water inside the walls even if I don't see any leaks/stains.

So anyway....his price wasn't too too bad, at $5800. That's because he said the plywood panels underneath the shingles seemed fine, and most wouldn't need to be replaced. This is contrary to what a roofer told me a few years ago who said all the plywood was soft and probably couldn't hold a nail and would need to be replaced, and his price was $8,000. So who's right?? The first guy seemed pretty nice, but maybe he was just trying to make more money, betting on the fact I probably wouldn't get up there to look at the plywood myself.

A 2nd roofer came over this a.m. He had bad attitude, plus I really didn't like the way we started off on the phone. He wanted to have my "husband" present when he gave his pitch, which he said would take 45 minutes. I told him just I would be meeting him and I'd be the one making the decisions. He insisted that my hubby should be there and pretty much said it was becus I wouldn't understand everything he said about their process and that he didn't want to waste my time...meaning their time, of course.

I don't feel it's his business to know my marital status, so didn't say anything about that, but I did tell him I didn't think roofing was rocket science and that I could process the information.

He was borderline rude when he got to my place, 20 minutes late. Needless to say, I won't be hiring him. I think I'll go with the first guy. He seemed to know his stuff, his references were sterling and I see he's licensed, insured, bonded. Couldn't dig up any dirt on him online.

Tomorrow is my first work at home day on the new job. AT&T is coming over sometime in the a.m. because there's a problem with my UVerse Internet line...I'd told them I keep losing internet every so often, and then it corrects itself in 5 minutes or so.

Also, the handyman is coming back tomorrow to do the 3rd and final coat in the closet. I'm not too thrilled with how it looks so far... in hindsight, I don't think taping is his strength, but it's the back of a closet, so hoping once he does one more coat and then I paint it, it'll look presentable.

Yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the 5 gallon bucket of joint compound and tools that he left here to try my hand at taping some of the many stress cracks above doors and such in my house, something I'd always been afraid to do becus I'd probably botch the job. I used that sticky netting tape and for a 1st coat I guess the 6 places I did aren't terrible. I have to do the 2nd coat TODAY since he's returning tomorrow.

There were a few other issues with his work and he really charged me a lot for what he did, so though he's very friendly, I won't be using him again.

Also tomorrow afternoon, I'm taking my mother to meet with an attorney in town so he can set up a durable power of attorney for me and her. This was something I tried talking to my mother about 6 months ago but got nowhere once my mother learned it would cost a few hundred dollars to do. It is so important, but she never wants to spend any money.

Also tomorrow is my ONLY day to call Access Health, the Connecticut health care exchange, to finish up my health insurance application. I have questions to ask and since their hours are 8 to 6 pm, I have no time to call them since I'm at work. It's been extremely frustrating. I may also have to call Anthem to ask my questions and endure their own needless/annoying questions about me.

This is why I don't like working 5 days a week. Thee is no time to attend to personal matters without asking for a day off, something I don't want to do when I'm working a contract job with no benefits. So I'm forced to try to sneak some in on a work at home day.

Other things I accomplished this weekend: grocery trips to BJs and Big Y for Thanksgiving dinner and a few special food items for my mother, for a Xmas food basket; filled up the gas tank; donated some old 60s records to the library, for their annual sale; vacuumed the downstairs, tried to remove old dried latex paint from an exterior garage doorknob (it works but not very well); organized myself cooking-wise for Thanksgiving (I will be brining the turkey overnight in a cooler, in the garage, the night before...never did that before, but supposed to make the turkey breast tender)

Once again, I'm at the tail end of a weekend and still haven't found time to just...relax.One good thing: yesterday was the LAST time I mowed and now the mower is in storage in back of garage. I wasn't really mowing the grass, but i learned a while back that it's much easier to run over fallen leaves with the mower, to mulch them, than it is to rake up the leaves, so that's what I was doing. But now we're done with lawn mowing season, and that should free up substantial free time on my weekends.

Catching Up

November 17th, 2013 at 06:23 am

I've been having a problem with anxiety and excessive worrying about things, mostly financial and job-related. It's hard for me to let go of worrisome thoughts.

It's an unfortunate side effect of underemployment since my 2009 layoff.

I should be feeling better now, since I started a 10-month full-time job 5 weeks ago. It got me thinking about how differently I feel now compared to how I felt this time 3 years ago.

Three years ago was when I had landed a 3-month contract job with a large financial services firm. They were paying me $50/hour,and although it was a contract job to end 12/31/10, there was also a chance it would go perm. (I think most agencies just say that as further incentive.) Because I'd gotten good feedback from my managers there, and because they let go the other two contract writers hired the same day I was, I figured I was going to get a perm offer. That didn't happen, but before knowing that I did go a little crazy in the spending department. I spent quite a bit on clothes and shoes and I do recall making take-out a regular thing on Friday nights, and a few other purchases I didn't really need. But I felt good about my work situation!

Fast forward to today. What can I say, I'm still feeling anxious about my long-term future, and wonder if I'll be resigned to short-term contract jobs and an extremely unstable financial lifestyle for the rest of my working years which, if I have my way, will be just 6 more years.

My issue with the near daily headaches is now something I think was also stress-related. It started way back in July. I was in the middle of one of my contract jobs that I found fairly stressful due to a work environment where I got no feedback on how I was doing and people left me to my own devices. I felt isolated and lonely there. I also didn't have enough work to do to keep me busy and I worried that I'd be let go early, and that, in fact, is what happened.

That job ended in August and then in September I started another contract job, this one for 2 weeks. Although it was a much friendlier environment (i knew the woman who hired me from a prior job) the headaches continued there, I think because it was yet another new job, new people and I felt I had to "prove my worth" all over again.

The headaches began easing up in October, but I was still having headaches probably half the time. November has been much better; in fact, i haven't had a headache since Monday, which is a big improvement. I may even cancel my neurologist appt next week.

Interestingly, I ran the numbers and realized with surprise that although I was making $50/hr in 2010, my total gross from that job, where I felt much more confident, was $26,000, whereas today I'm making $35/hr but for 10 months, so the gross this time around will come out to $60,660. Quite a bit more than in 2010 so I wish I could breathe more easily.

In 2010 I didn't realize how long and slow this economic recovery (and my own) would be; now, after long stretches of nothing but unemployment and my freelance work, with the occasional contract job, I'm much more cautious about my immediate outlook.

So I am being extremely careful about spending, or at least, HOW I'm spending. Unlike my 2010 spending spree, I've done very little spending this time around and can actually recite from memory the few "splurges" I've made. This includes 2 Friday afternoon lunches with others from the job at $7.50 each time for a yummy portabello/pesto panini. I consider this necessary, not just for my own sanity but also to cultivate/maintain friendships at work, something I used to think was optional but which I've now concluded is vital. In my usual independent way, I used to think that as long as I did my job that I could take care of myself. But I've learned that as a newcomer, I really rely on others for information related to how things work in the new company, etc.

I did also "splurge" for a $1 diet coke from the vending machine at work one day.

The only other non-essential spending I've done is $75 for 3 pieces of clothing at Kohl's and much more money on needed upgrades/maintenance/repairs on my home, which again, I consider essential so I can sell this place.

At least I've started the ball rolling in that regard. Carpenter still has to come back to do 2nd coat on compounding a closet wall, and fixing a shelf he installed in another closet where the screws came THROUGH the wall out into my hallway! I was furious about this since I TOLD him about a prior carpenter who did the same damn thing when he put paneling in the same closet. Now the hallway wall will have to be repainted. (Well, it probably would have to be repainted anyway, but still....)

The carpenter did replace a side garage door that was wood and had rotted out in the bottom. The new door is metal sheathing on both sides but pressed wood or something inside. The door came primed, but not painted, so I am taking advantage of a high oif 60 degrees today to paint the door, and I made the carpenter apply silicone to both the top and bottom ends of the door, something he initially told me I could do by removing the door from its hinges, etc. Umm, I can't do that! For crying out loud! That's why I hired you! He also replaced all the trim around the door, and did a good job at that. Some of the trim was rotted at bottom and just looked old and worn out. He also redid the concrete threshold, not by rebuilding it with footers as I wanted, but anyway i guess it looks okay. You really have to be ultra-specific with a contractor or they'll take shortcuts. Like, I want a metal door that's SOLID metal through and through, not this pressed wood crap.

I also bought a new floor register to replace an old wrought iron one that had been painted over numerous times and looked bad. It looks great so I decided to order 4 more for other rooms in the house, although I found by measuring that not all the cut-outs in my wood floors are a standard 8 x 12 or 9 x 12 so there is one, I think, where I can't replace the register. But just a small thing like that really helps to update the appearance here.

TGIF

November 8th, 2013 at 04:35 pm

I'm happy to have a 3-day weekend (yet another bank holiday) but not so happy I won't get paid for the day off. Nothing I can do about it, so might as well enjoy it.

Tomorrow a chimney cleaner is coming over in the morning. My dad doesn't think I need to have the furnace flue cleaned (I have no fireplace) but I've read that it's still important as buildup can occur.

On Monday my new, expensive but supposedly meticulous handyman guy is coming over to do a few jobs around here for $985. I am really curious to see how long it takes me, because instead of telling me he'd charge $x an hour, he just quoted me a flat rate for all 3 jobs I wanted him to do. I already know he charges others (like my friend's husband) $45/hr, and I suspect I'll be paying him much more if I calculate it on an hourly basis.

If so, I will just tell him that if he wants more work from me it's got to be in the $45/hr range or I won't be able to afford to hire him again. I should have told him that from the get go, but I didn't.

I was prepared to suggest to my sister that we take my mother out for Tgiving dinner as mom's getting too old to be having to deal with the big dinner, even if just for the 3 of us. But, even though I'm working the day before, I decided I'd rather save money and have it at my place if everyone can just chip in and bring 1 or 2 dishes. I'll do the bird, dessert and a side. I'd rather have the leftovers, to be honest, and since my sister and i would be paying for mom, the bill would probably be at least $50 each.

Well, another Friday commute home has come and gone and I'm proud to say I have yet to cave in to a desire to get takeout to treat myself. The only reason I didn't do it today was, I was all set to pick up a pizza on the drive home, but as it turned out, there was leftover pizza at work and I snagged a piece and gobbled it down without even reheating it. So I had no appetite for more of the same a few hours later.

After 5 weeks of f/t work, the ONLY splurge so far has been $1.50 on a bottle of soda at work. There will be another outlay of money next month when it's my turn to bring in breakfast for a group of 10. If you join the group, you get to enjoy breakfasts once a week that others bring in. There are a few people who have not "joined" the group but still manage to help themselves to free food, which I think is incredibly bad form.

I got my new World Wildlife Fund Visa bonus card ($100 after $500 spend) from BankAmerica. It's a bank I've hated becus of their role in the credit crisis, but I love their bonus cards.

I upgraded my landline to AT&T UVerse; in order to get the plan I wanted, I had to upgrade my UVerse DSL with them to the next higher speed. Still, the 2 together only cost me $44 a month. The phone part of the plan allows just 4 hours of free talk time a month, whether local or long distance, and after that, calls will cost .05 a minute. Before this, I had an even cheaper AT&T plan that charged me for toll-free calls but had a very low monthly base rate, but it was really too restrictive. I had hoped I could rely on the 60 free minutes I get on my cell phone monthly, but it was never enough and I'd have to buy more minutes on the cell. And I call a LOT of toll-free numbers and was always stressed out when I had to wait on hold, since it was costing me.

If 4 hours is still not enough, for $10 more a month ($55) i can get unlimited talk time on the land line.

Only problem is, the internet portion of this deal is good for just 1 year, and I'm probably nearly halfway through on that one year term. Then the price will jump to $36 a month just for Internet, I think. Not sure what I'll do then. I may be stuck with it. I'm sure some will say that's still a good deal?

Remember, I've been on a bare bones budget for a very long time. The bank job may not last forever, and that's always in the back of my mind, meaning, I don't want to start having little bills creep back up again here or there.

I'm excited it's the weekend. Me time.

The colors of November, the job, financial stuff

November 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I remember the Novembers of my youth as being gray, chilly days. Not so the fall of 2013!

When many other plants are spent, the scraggly beauty berry is at its best...


Too bad the berries don't dry well; they basically shrivel up. But they're still pretty to look at.


I can't get enough of the Japanese maple. This small one is a volunteer that just started growing, and I let it be.



Not to be confused with the much larger red maple here:


I am pooped, but I am done with this weekend's writing assignment about a small luxury custom home development in lower Westchester County priced at $1.4 mm each. It took me about 4 hours to write and I'll gross $300 for it. Right after that I mowed the back lawn; tomorrow I'll do the front.

I've had freelance real estate writing assignments every weekend since I started my new f/t job, and I feel like I could use a break. There doesn't seem to be much time left over for...well, me.

But I can't complain. Don't want to say "no" and risk shutting off the spigot since this f/t job will (probably) eventually end and then I'll really value the two freelance clients giving me all this work.

The new job is going ok. The commute isn't too bad (35 minutes) and the money is decent (especially since I don't have a mortgage to pay). I think my boss is pretty happy with me, but there are big changes coming down the pike which could lead to layoffs. I suspect the perm employees have more to worry about since contractors like me are already saving them money. Still, I'm a little uneasy about it all and it just further incenticizes me to save as much money as possible, while I can.

I had been told by other contractors that this company routinely furloughs contractors for a week or more around Tgiving and Xmas, to further save money. I asked my boss about it and she said that since I'm the only writer Smile she'd like me to make myself available for at least part of those holiday weeks, which was exactly what I was hoping for, since if I don't work, I don't get paid, and I'd rather not lose two weeks of pay if I don't really have to. So I proposed I take off the 2 holidays plus 2 days, but will come in for 3-day work weeks those 2 weeks. Oh, and I guess the office will be closed New Year's as well.

I am beginning to learn the lay of the land there. Meaning, there are way too many people who have input into writing various letters that go out to customers, and it seems nigh impossible to get agreement on the language. I understand that decision-making by consensus can be desirable at times, but I think there needs to be someone in charge who can make a final call to expedite the process.

I have someone I walk with daily at lunch, but her assignment will likely be ending by year's end. I am also friendly with the 2 women who sit near me but otherwise haven't really had occasion to get to know others too much. It's been over 3 weeks, I guess, and I did finally get my first full-time paycheck for a 40-hour week, which netted out to $999 for 1 week.

So I was able to make my first $1,000 deposit to replenish my emergency savings account, an online money market earning .90%. It's where I put money that I want to remain more or less liquid (ie, not invested in the stock market) and I often transfer funds into it from my checking account, which earns no interest. I funnel $500 into this account every month so I'm sure I'll have enough to pay my twice a year property tax bill. Right now I think I've got about $6,000 in there and I'd love to see it get to $20,000, but I won't get there in 10 months (the term of my contract job) unless I step up my monthly contributions.

I am feeling hopeful that the company will see fit to renew my contract when my term is up next July since my walking buddy said they often renew contract job terms for 3, 6 or 9 months, sometimes more than once. She herself has been there nearly 2 years. Even better, of course, would be a perm offer. Trying not to think about it too much since there's still plenty of time and also, I was greatly disappointed when I was in the same scenario working for Prudential and it didn't pan out.

This weekend I want to take advantage of some great gift card offers including Staples where you can buy $75 worth of gift cards to Home Depot or other stores and then get a $25 credit when you purchase with your Amex card. Similar deal with Amex when you go to Lowes.

On the credit card front, I thought I had pretty much exhausted all the lucrative credit card bonus deals of at least $100 (the business cards that require $3,000 spend are too much for me), but by going directly to the credit card websites instead of just googling credit cards or going to some place like creditcards.com, I found more deals that weren't listed elsewhere.

For instance, Bank of America has at least three more deals where you can get $100 cash back by charging just $500 on the card within the 1st 3 months of having it. They have one card that benefits the World Wildlife Fund, another for Susan Komen breast cancer fundraising and another for major league baseball teams, all three with the same spend/reward deal. So I got the WWF one.

When it comes to saving money or making money on the side, I like to go for the lowest hanging fruit first, so for me, earning this kind of credit card reward is some of the easiest money I've ever earned. It beats running around town to save a couple of dollars here or there at different sales, and it isn't the mind-numbing tedium of many online survey sites. It also requires very little of my time.

Despite 4 years of under-employment and a big fat 0 in retirement contributions, my net worth (see profile) is at an all-time high, thanks to the stock market. I am a little nervous about what will happen to my bond funds when the Fed raises rates, as I really don't know where else to put my bond money. I also have a big chunk of money sitting in a Vanguard money market earning a pathetic .03% and while I did move $8,000 of it to a 5-year CD earning 2%, I also don't want to tie up that money for so long as I don't believe rates will remain this low for 5 years, and then I won't be able to touch that money without penalty. If anyone has any suggestions, love to hear them....